It is summer and the weather is sunny and warm, great for wearing flip-flops. So it is appropriate Sony and Microsoft flip-flopped their positions from last year’s E3. In 2013, I (and many others) ridiculed Microsoft for talking about TV shows, and entertainment, and sports, and everything except games. I (and many others) praised Sony for focusing on games.
Oh what changes hath a year wrought! Microsoft delivered 90 minutes of games and nothing but games. There were no hardware announcements—almost no hardware was mentioned at all except for brief nods to Kinect and SmartGlass (1). Sony countered with two hours that was mostly about games, but, right in the middle, went off the reservation. New SCEA president Shawn Layden got thrown into the fire with an over-long spew of facts and figures that hearkened back to Sony’s bad old E3 pressers. And then, what’s this? Sony is producing television? Did Microsoft hack Sony’s press conference?
On the plus side for Sony, buried in the monotonous swill of data two exciting new products were mentioned. PlayStation TV and Project Morpheus are both worthy of more in-depth exploration and I hope Sony will give us even more details soon. They should have given us more at E3.
Still, it all comes back to the games. Both companies showed games that will almost certainly push consoles off the shelf. Sunset Overdrive and the Halo Collection for Microsoft. Destiny (2) and Uncharted for Sony. Both companies have deals with third party publishers to get exclusive content in otherwise cross-platform games. There were lots of indie games in both shows. The next couple of years look great for gamers (3). I was a little more excited about Sony’s offerings (UNCHARTED!), but that’s just me. There’s plenty to like from both consoles and nothing that definitively makes one better than the other (4).
How will this play out over the next 6 months (through the holiday season)? Sony established itself as a gaming machine and is now slowly adding other features. Microsoft tried to establish itself as an all-in-one entertainment system and is now trying to push games. Thus far, Sony has had the more successful strategy (almost twice as many consoles sold as Microsoft). Will Sony’s divergence into other markets hurt or will the added value only make their already gen-leading console more attractive?
Well, through 3-1/2 hours of press conferences from both companies, the loudest audience response was for Uncharted 4. I’m betting on Sony.
(1) At the time of this piece (June 10), there is no official SKU for a Kinect 2.0 for the Xbox One. In other words, right now, if you buy the cheaper X1, you can’t add Kinect later unless you go through the secondary market (eBay, Amazon Sellers, etc.). 2014 may well be remembered as the final nail in the coffin of motion control. The fad started by Wii has, blessedly, run its course and even MS is giving up and relegating Kinect to the dust heap of history.
(2) Yes, I know Destiny isn’t exclusive to PlayStation. But it’s available first on PlayStation and the new, Glacier White PS4 bundle will sell. Microsoft didn’t show ANY new hardware or bundles.
(3) Favorite line constantly repeated by Microsoft: “This game runs in full 1080p.” Translation: “Yes, we know our games have not been able to run in 1080p so far, that’s why we dumped Kinect so developers can boost the graphic performance. You’re welcome.”
(4) I’m not ignoring Nintendo. Well, actually, yes I am. Nintendo has become its own niche market. If you want to play Nintendo games, you buy a Nintendo console. If you have had enough Mario, Link, and Kirby to last for a while, you don’t need a Nintendo console. Even if you do play Nintendo games, you’re still going to need a PS4 or X1 to play everything else. I call the PS4 and X1 the “Or” consoles—you need a PS4 OR an X1. The WiiU is an “And” console. You need a WiiU AND PS4 or X1.
A gamer tells you graphics don't matter.
Then tells you to play games on PC because, better graphics.
A gamer bemoans the lack of innovation in the industry.
Then screams bloody murder when a favorite franchise updates the core gameplay.
A gamer complains there are too many sequels and not enough new IP.
While buying Super Mario Halo Killzone 15.
A gamer screams publishers are ripping them off with day one DLC.
Then buys the game used.
A gamer criticizes new consoles for not having backward compatibility.
But trades in all their old games to buy new ones.
A gamer argues games are art.
Then demands the artists patch their game because the players don't like the ending.
A gamer objects to the depictions of women in games.
Then treats women gamers like dirt.
A gamer mourns the closing of a studio.
Then returns their game that was only rented.
A gamer is passionate about games.
And passion makes you do weird things.
UPDATE: Microsoft has issued a mea culpa and retracted pretty much everything about the Xbox One's DRM policies. Hooray for the power of group outrage!
“The first-sale doctrine creates a basic exception to the copyright holder's distribution right … Without the doctrine, a possessor of a copy of a copyrighted work would have to negotiate with the copyright owner every time he wished to dispose of his copy.” Seem familiar? This is exactly what Microsoft is asking people who buy disc-based games for the Xbox One to do: negotiate with the copyright owner every time you wish to dispose of your copy of the game.
It's true digital distribution is presenting a number of legal issues around copyright and the first-sale doctrine. Copyright holders want to “license” media (including games) to us, without actually considering the logic behind that stance. If we are only buying a “license” to use content and not buying the content, then copyright holders should be offering to re-sell us the same content for only the cost of the media. For example, if your child destroys your game disc, you should be able to get a new disc for only the cost of the disc—after all, you already paid for the “license.” Of course, this is not how physical distribution works.
Haha. Just kidding. There wasn't any Good or Bad in MS's presser today. It was all just Meh.
As I said in “Future of Gaming,” Microsoft seems to think its primary competition is AppleTV and Roku. They spent two-thirds of their one-hour event talking about interactive TV, an exclusive television show with Steven Spielberg's name attached, using Internet Explorer to Bing search while watching live TV, etc.
I really don't know what to say about this non-event today. One commenter on a gaming news site said Microsoft “one upped” Sony because MS showed us the actual box.
That's it? That's all you've got? A black brick proves superiority? (It should be noted that, while Sony never showed the box—which probably hadn't been finalized back in February—they did at least actually show people playing games on it. That's way more than MS showed.)
Initial reactions aren't mixed. They're overwhelming that Xbox One is underwhelming. Gamespot's “Twitter Battle” puts PS4 ahead of X1 by 74%. Gamasutra thinks the X1 is “a desperate prayer to stop time.” Kotaku's judgment is the conference was a “disaster.”
The two things that stood out to me the most were these: First, all the cool interactive TV stuff is limited to the US (maybe North America, but nowhere else). MS has long conceded the Japanese market to Nintendo and Sony, apparently it is now conceding the entire world outside of America. Second, they touted a 500GB hard drive. That's just laughable. In today's digital download world (and on a machine that requires every game to be installed to hard drive), 500GB is nothing. That should double (at least) or any purchaser of an X1 had best factor in the cost of a bigger hard drive within the first six months of owning the console.
It's all just a little depressing. I was hoping for something at least as cool as Sony's PS4 reveal. I was hoping for at least a brief demonstration of Illumiroom. I was hoping—albeit against everything we've heard from MS the past three years—there would actually be discussion of games and not just more, “here's how we're integrating even more tightly with ESPN!”
Gamers play games. Is Microsoft even making a game console any more?
 Does anyone actually watch live TV any more? And if you do watch live TV, would you spend hundreds of dollars on a game console so you could Skype with your friends while you watched TV?
This is going to be a long essay, so here's the short version: The Wii U will be the last home console ever made by Nintendo, and the next Xbox could be Microsoft's last console. The home console gaming market is shrinking due to market fragmentation, and, while there's still room for a dedicated home gaming console, there is only room for two, and maybe only one.
Types of Gamers
Throughout the 20th century and into the 21st, we have progressed through several types of media entertainment: radio, film, television, and video games. (The Internet isn't a media itself, just a medium that delivers media in different ways. It will eventually lead to the dissolution of traditional radio and TV stations, but we're still a generation or two from that happening.)
What has marked all those types of media is eventual fragmentation. The video game market is also fragmenting, and it will only get worse (better?) from here. Fragmentation of these markets are based partly on genre (like radio station formats) and also based on market demographics. For video games, more than other media, the market is breaking down by demographic rather than genre.
Broadly there are four types of gamer:
Enthusiast. Enthusiasts love to play games, and lots of them. Enthusiasts are more likely to own multiple systems, will almost definitely have at least one console, probably a gaming PC or laptop, and buy lots of games across a variety of genres. These are the so-called “hardcore” or “core” gamers that have been playing for quite some time.
Obsessive. Obsessive gamers focus on one or two games and play them to the exclusion of all others. Most often the focus of their obsession is an MMO or similar online game that is constantly updated with new content. Obsessive gamers may change their obsession, but it will be rare, so they don't buy many different games, but they will spend lots of money on their one or two obsessed-over games.
Pick-up-and-go. These gamers just want to jump into a game for 15 to 20 minutes and get a quick fix. They don't want big, complicated games or games with long levels or long times between checkpoints. They prefer puzzle games where they can solve a few puzzles and turn the game off.
Social. Social gamers like playing with friends. They could be lumped into any of the other groups, and, in terms of spending habits, may fall into one of those groups. However, they will only spend their money and time on games that offer an online component because single-player just isn't interesting to them.
Let's leave that there and take a brief look at the history of consoles, beginning with Nintendo and Sega.
Three things that were really good about the PS4 reveal:
1) Sony talked tech. The details weren't very detailed, and they pretty well matched what has been leaked (and a little more detail was published afterward by AMD). What was good to hear was an apology (of sorts) for the Cell processor and architecture of the PS3. Sony has learned its lesson and is building a gaming computer in a box. Albeit an optimized computer with custom firmware.
2) Sony focused on games. Nintendo and Microsoft have both bent over backwards to turn their consoles into general-purpose media centers. Sony essentially said to blazes with that, we want PlayStation to be the core of your gaming world. Everything they did and said was about the games. Sony is staking the future of PlayStation on “hardcore” gamers. I think it's a good bet.
3) Announced partnerships (Blizzard!) indicate PS4 will have every meaningful game of the next generation, and some of them will be exclusive. Microsoft could still pull some good games out of their hat, but more and more developers are backing Sony.